Elizabeth Sammons did not know when she initially applied to the Peace Corps years ago that only 1 of 4 applicants was accepted and it was rare for a blind person to apply, but knowing that would not have stopped her.
Elizabeth graduated from Ohio State University with her Master’s in Journalism, and was ready for her next journey. After applying to the Peace Corps and being assigned to Hungary, she immediately found someone that could teach her Hungarian in Ohio. She found learning the local language as her “offense” to arriving to a new country. Elizabeth was already fluent in Russian, and as a linguist, she knew she would be able to pick up another language quickly.
At the Peace Corps swearing in ceremony, she was the representative invited to speak for the group of 33 volunteers to the Hungarian audience.
Elizabeth stayed focused on other strengths she had that would help her navigate independently abroad. For one, she was used to asking for directions and listening well. Also, Elizabeth was skilled at being cautious of what was underfoot and all around her, so this helped her adapt as quickly as sighted colleagues.
“In America, I am far more ‘blind’ than I ever was living abroad. Public transportation was a welcomed expansion of my independence, not an inconvenience as for many Americans.”
Elizabeth taught English to high school students in Hungary, but encountered an unexpected tragedy with the death of her mother soon after arriving. It was what you see in the movies, she remembers, with the late night knock at her door to give her the horrible news.
Despite her grieving, it was never a question of leaving Hungary. Her parents were extremely proud; they saw this as such a great success. Elizabeth did not want to dishonor her family, and knew it was the right thing to do, and what she wanted to do. Elizabeth felt a strong commitment to her students and did not want to give up on them. “Don’t worry, I won’t leave you” she told them.
She still has pride in her stay in the Peace Corps. Elizabeth’s experience taught her how much she values human commitment and mentoring, which she has continued to weave into her life. She encourages any other blind person thinking about joining the Peace Corps to take the chance, focusing on language mastery, and strong navigation skills.
“Anyone can do it if they are seriously interested and stay focused on the answers rather than the questions.”